Marketplace Fairness Act – Who Really Wins?

There is a bill going through the Senate right now called the Marketplace Fairness Act. It’s a bill that will force online companies like eBay and Amazon to collect taxes on all purchases, regardless which state they are shipping to. Currently Amazon only collects taxes from 5 states in the country.

I can hear you asking – “A new tax?! Don’t we already have enough taxes to pay? Why are both sides of the political fence backing this bill.. has the sky really fallen?!” Turns out, legally you’re supposed to be paying those taxes for your online purchases at the end of the year when you file your tax return. Surprisingly enough, Americans aren’t always so voluntary and forthcoming with that sort of information when tax time comes around. State and Federal Tax bureaus also haven’t been the best when it comes to enforcing it either.

Continue reading Marketplace Fairness Act – Who Really Wins?

When Fairness Backfires

The J.C. Penney logo
J.C. Penney has struggled after introducing new “fairer” prices this spring.

In most money matters, it pays to be fair. (Certainly when paying back your friends.) But when big businesses try to be fair to their customers, sometimes it can backfire in a big way.

Take J.C. Penney. Back in February, they hired a new CEO, Ron Johnson (who built Apple Inc.’s retail operation) to revamp their declining sales. The department store chain then made some radical changes to their pricing.  They eliminated coupons, got rid of confusing fine print, and cut back from over 500 sales a year to just 12. The goal was to make shopping simpler, more transparent, and fairer for consumers.

Five months later, sales are tanking and stock prices have fallen more than 30%. But why? And is it possible for a company to be honest and still turn a profit? Continue reading When Fairness Backfires

An Interview With JumpOffCampus

JumpOffCampusRecently, Katie from JumpOffCampus conducted an experiment: what happens if you tape record me talking for 15 minutes, and post it almost word-for-word on the internet?

Find out the results by reading the interview on the JumpOffCampus blog (except for the parts that were “too colorful for the internet”, kindly censored out).

JumpOffCampus is, in my honest opinion, the world’s best off-campus housing tool. It’s only available with schools that partner with them, so if you are a student and looking for a good apartment search tool, you should reach out to them.

A widget-ized version of the rent calculator is currently available as a resource on their page, which we hope will be very valuable for their students. Woot!

The Joys Of Living With Your Tenants

I feel odd linking to a NASDAQ page about shared real estate, but there was a nice article on one of the NASDAQ blogs recently about renting out rooms of a house or apartment that you own – that is, being a landlord in your own home. Apparently, the 2011 US Census has concluded that over 30% of households in the US now have unrelated adults living together, which comes to 69M roommates (and a 10.7% increase over the 2007 figure). This means the potential market for property owners to share their residence with renters is increasing rather quickly.

Renting part of a place you own is an appealing option for people who are living in a house that is now too big for them to afford. For instance, parents who have an empty-nest can rent out their kids old bedroom to get some retirement income. Or a young professional who wants to go back to graduate school can get some positive cash flow if they own some property.

If you’re able to get a mortgage, renting out the other rooms of a residence can also be a good way to live affordably while slowly buying the place you’re sharing. With interest rates low, and the sale-price-to rental-price-ratio declining in many major US cities, it’s getting easier and easier to pull-off paying off a mortgage with rental income.

The main trick to doing this well yourself is to find and keep good tenants / roommates, which can be a tough proposition. Finding roommates means ensuring your personal security and doing appropriate tenant screening. There are also a couple of things to watch out for: have some legal protection, pay taxes, and follow Fair Housing rules when advertising for tenants. (the NASDAQ article does not mention this, but the exact rules of fair housing legislation seem more subtle now in light of a recent court case).

The Real Story About Transferring Money

Hey Barbarians, get your damn hands off my money!

Ron Lieber wrote an article with a moving headline in the NYTimes on Friday: “Why It’s So Hard To Transfer Cash To Your Friends.” I am passionate about this issue – Splitwise’s mission is to reduce the awkwardness of sharing money. Stress about money poisons relationships and dealing with the logistics of repayment is one cause of stress. Let me elaborate on that story and give you Splitwise’s take. Continue reading The Real Story About Transferring Money

Court Allows Discrimination in Roommate Selection

One of my passions is to help people be fair to their roommates. But how fair are you required to be to your potential roommates? is a popular roommate finding site, which allows you to search for roommates based on sex, age, sexual orientation, and family status. Is this fair? The Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley thought not, and the case landed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Continue reading Court Allows Discrimination in Roommate Selection

Juries: The Original Fairness Calculator

A survey of your peers.

I had the fascinating experience of attending my first jury summons yesterday in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. I wasn’t sure whether to be disappointed or relieved when they dismissed me from the courthouse after 7 hours of waiting for my voir dire.

A randomly selected jury pool jury is in some ways the original, single-use fairness calculator. When confronted with a dispute, one presents the case to a representative sample of your peers. They vote for the result they think matches their common sense notions of what is relevant and who is right. If Splitwise didn’t do surveys to test our fairness calculators, it would be a bit like the government having a trial without a jury (maybe a stretch, but I think it’s a stimulating thought).
Continue reading Juries: The Original Fairness Calculator

Retiring At 30 Through Splitting Costs

An interesting writer named Mr Money Mustache wrote this week on MSN money explaining how he was able to retire at age 30 with all the money he saved on rent by sharing with his friends and future wife.

While he had a rather above-average salary in a location with relatively cheap housing expenses, I was impressed by his vision of home-sharing as a path to financial and career freedom. Though personally, I don’t think my fiancee and I could keep my spending that low with those incomes, sharing a bedroom or not! You can read the inglorious details of his year-by-year savings in the original article.

Homeowners: Have A Spare Bedroom?

There are many reasons that a family or individual would choose not rent out spare bedrooms in their house. A homeowner might have a desire for more privacy, a fear of having bad tenants, or a need to keep a guest room free (perhaps because they have adult children who use them periodically).

But for many homeowners and empty-nest-ers, the primary reason there are spare bedrooms in their house is because they didn’t go to trouble of looking for renters.

The Ann Arbor Home Share program is looking to change that. It hooks up University of Michigan renters with local homeowners interested in finding tenants. This is a fantastic idea, because students and young professionals often face a scarcity of good housing resources, and homeowners can improve their retirement finances or keep their large houses with the help of the additional income. So many more cities could use this kind of forward-thinking leadership.

We have heard from people using Splitwise that our site is great for this managing and organizing this sort of arrangement. One user wrote to us recently:

“I have been using your system for about a month and love it! I am leasing rooms in the house I own…”

Non-traditional as it may be, we’re so happy to see Splitwise helps makes it easier for people to share space and live in rental harmony together.